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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Former New Jersey Attorney Sentenced To Two Years In Prison For Generating $1 Million In Profit From Phony Lawsuits

CAMDEN, N.J. – A former attorney in the Haddonfield, New Jersey, office of a firm specializing in toxic tort litigation was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for falsifying defendants’ names in more than 100 asbestos suits filed in New York State courts in order to increase business and his standing in the firm, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Arobert C. Tonagbanua, 47, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud. Judge Hillman imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From 2008 through April 9, 2012, Tonagbanua worked at the Haddonfield office of a firm specializing in toxic tort litigation, workers’ compensation and immigration law, during which time he engaged in the wire fraud scheme.

Tonagbanua admitted he obtained copies of legitimately filed asbestos complaints and fraudulently altered them by deleting a named defendant and inserting the name of one or more of his firm’s clients. Unbeknownst to anyone else at the firm, he forwarded those fraudulently altered complaints by email, fax and otherwise to the firm’s clients, their representatives and insurance companies. 

After notifying the firm’s clients of the suits, Tonagbanua – and others at the firm who were not involved in the scheme – undertook the representation of the clients, by attending depositions, answering discovery and even settling claims. It is estimated that Tonagbanua inserted his firm’s clients’ names into more than 100 lawsuits, resulting in the generation of more than $1 million in fraudulent fees, costs and settlements. Tonagbanua personally benefitted from the scheme through bonuses and increased compensation.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hillman sentenced Tonagbanua to three years of supervised release. Tonagbanua must also pay remaining institution of $232,643.92.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. in Philadelphia, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Carrig of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden.

Defense counsel: Michael Miller Esq., Turnersville, New Jersey

Updated May 5, 2016